The best web visualization tools

Starting with data journalism is daunting. All the numbers, the charts, the tables…but fortunately there are thousands of online tools that make our job much easier. Here is the list of simple tools to get you started in data:

1. Many eyes

This is one is wide world known and there is a reason for that. It allows you to produce any kind of chart (Ok…almost any kind). You can use their data sets to produce visualization to practice or upload your own.

Tourism to Australia in March 2013 Many EyesChart by AndreyVasnev

2. Visual.ly

I like this one. The design is very simple and modern and it allows you to create infographics very quickly. In addition, Visual.ly is also a community where you can upload your designs, get feedback and comment on other people’s projects. You can even contact employers at Marketplace.

The gallery is also very inspiring…so if you are lacking inspiration take a look.

Presidential Inaugural Addresses

 

3. Info.gram

Info.gram is a free online data visualization tool very useful for online presentation of raw data. It creates very interesting interactive presentations and it is very easy to work with. In comparison with more complex software such as Tableau, which is much more complex and demands more patience.

4. Fusion Tables

Google Fusion Tables is a Google tool to produce visualizations (Ok…everybody could understand that). It produces neat and very professional charts. The best are, in my opinion, the maps. The Guardian’s Data Blog produces a lot of maps with this tool. Simon Rogers did an amazing job with Census 2011. He was able to map England & Wales in religion, immigration and race.

The bad thing? It demands time and patience to go through the tutorials as it is not so straight-forward as info-gram.

5. Data Wrapper

Data Wrapper is very good for beginners (like me). It is an open source tool and creates simple charts in minutes. And when I say simple…well, they really are simple. If you want to create more complex infographics/visualization probably this is not your best choice. However, it works perfectly with simple data.

Simon Rogers made a compilation about what tools The Guardian uses for their visualizations.

Well…these are my top tools. What about yours?

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The best websites for data visualizations

In the era of data journalism there are more and more websites and blogs with useful information. For the last months I have follow some blogs and here is my compilation the ones to visit:

1. Cool Infographics

This is probably my favourite website. It highlights examples of the best visualizations and infographics around everywhere: newspapers, magazines, blogs etc. Basically everything is cool: the name, the blog, the visualizations.

2. Information is Beautiful

This blog created by David McCandless features his best data visualizations. David is a british data journalist and information designer with a lot of good tips.

3. Information Aesthetics

This website was created by Andrew Vande Moere’s and focus on the most incredible and creative infographics around the world. Is is amazing for inspiration if you really care about design.

4. Visual Journalism

Visual Journalism is a website that puts forward the importance of visualizations in modern journalism. The best way to describe it it would be: show me, don’t tell me!

5. Guardian’s Data Blog

This blog is probably the front-end for an amazing library of statistics and data; it is the state of art in data journalism in the UK. If you are doing data or looking forward to learn more about it you definitely have to be a regular visitor.

The infographics are not so creatively (that is not the point) appealing but you learn a lot about how to work with numbers and how to write articles around charts.

Ok…these are my choices. What about yours?

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Tips to make an Infography

Infographics are a great way to explain and explore complex information in a clear and visually appealing way.

Besides the data, to make an infographic you should have a plan of how to present your information. Here are some tips to help you with your infographics:

Choosing the Font

Choosing the right font is very important and the best way is too see the actual font on an infographic before you start. You can look for infographics that actually focus on typography to help you visualise it.

Colour Scheme

We have to take colours in consideration and determine which colour scheme to use. Mixng wrong colours can really affect the effect on your visual representation. E.g: Let’s say that you want to use blue in your infographic. Check the colours that match with blue. There are websites that can help you with that.

Be clear

Your infographic should tell a story with pictures/graphs and use text as a secondary source. You can use text to small explanations but don’t depend on it. Also, be concise and don’t lose sight of the idea you want to get across.

The key is to build the data right into the infographic and don’t make the readers have to work hard to understand the information.

Be transparent

This aspect is more technical but cite the sources and appendix the spreadsheet with your data. If you check every data visualization has a spreadsheet attached with more information and with the sources as well.

Be accurate and attractive

This means that you should visualise with the way you organise your information. And as it is a data visualization…well, do I need to say more? It has to be attractive. Include different elements (icons, pictures, maps, graphics) and mixed them together with creativity.

See a lot of infographics

A good way to start and to to evolve is to look at other people’s work. Websites such as Visua.ly, Information is Beautiful or Cool Infographics have plenty of inspiring pieces. Pinterest is also a good place to look to creative infographics. A good idea is to save the infographics you find most important.

Plan

Planning is very important. Imagine how you would like to see an infographic and go from there. Use paper as a guideline if it helps. Don’t worry you don’t need to be the master of drawing to do so.

photo

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My first data journalism post: Vlookup

I am a newbie when it comes to data journalism, excel and numbers in general.

When playing around with Excel I discovered a really useful function: VLOOKUP. Basically, it looks up values in a table that are listed in column format, given another value. And why? V stands for vertical. There is also a similar function called HLOOKUP (h=horizontal).

I decided to make a small tutorial with my knowledge about Vlookup.

Let’s suppose you have this table:

Captura de ecrã - 2013-05-23, 16.44.03

Given a list of names in another part of the table (or this case, column H), you want to figure out what kind of animals belong to these names:

Captura de ecrã - 2013-05-23, 16.54.22

Given a list of names in another part of the table (in this case, column H), you want to figure out what kind of animal it is:

The VLOOKUP function looks like the following:

=vlookup (lookup value, tbale where values reside, column # where values are located, true or false)

Let’s look at the function a bit closer:

The first thing that goes into the VLOOKUP function is the information you know and that will be used to lookup other values. In this case you know the names of the animals. In this case they also reside in Column H, from cells H2 to H6.

If we want to put the type of animal next to the name of the animal in column (so I2 would correspond to the name of the animal in H2), we insert the vlookup function there:

Captura de ecrã - 2013-05-23, 17.12.59

and put H2 as the first thing in our vlookup function:

Captura de ecrã - 2013-05-23, 17.16.49

Next, we need to know the location of the table where our values reside. These happen to be the cells from A1 to B6. Then we highlight with our mouse to insert the lookup function. You have to include all the cells in the table:

Captura de ecrã - 2013-05-23, 16.58.09

At the same time, the VLOOKUP function automatically puts in the cells you’ve highlighted like this:

Captura de ecrã - 2013-05-23, 16.56.48

Now we need the column number where the values are located. Always start with the first column (column A in this case) as 1 and count out to the right. In this example, the type of animal listed is in column 2, so that’s what we would need to insert in the vlookup function.

Captura de ecrã - 2013-05-23, 16.57.09

Finally, the last attribute that VLOOKUP takes is either “true” or “false”. What is the difference?

  • True: We write true if we want an approximate match, which means that if the exact match is not available True will pick the closest one to it.
  • False: We write false if we want to find the exact match in this case we want.

So this is your final function:

=vlookup(H2, A1:B6, 2, false)

Captura de ecrã - 2013-05-23, 16.57.20

Once we close off the parenthesis and hit “Enter”, vlookup automatically calculates:

Captura de ecrã - 2013-05-23, 17.24.23

And this will work for other cells. You have to make sure that the location of your keys and values is correctly selected.

When you copy and paste formulas on Excel the location of the data can move around relative to the cell. In this case you have to lock the range of the location by using $ symbol.

For example: $A$1: $B$6 instead of A1:B6

This way , as we move down A1:B6 does not become A2:B6 and it will stay with the original range of data. We can just copy what is in the cell to the rest of the cells:

Finally, here’s our result, after making the “$” changes:

Captura de ecrã - 2013-05-23, 16.57.56

Captura de ecrã - 2013-05-23, 16.58.09

I Know this was a very simple example but if you understand the mechanics on this one it get easier. Normally, vlookup is used between sheets and workbooks but by understanding this example you can try it between sheets.

What else can you tell me about VLOOKUP?

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Understanding Audio Recorders

Recording good sound is always a problem. I am always afraid that I will end up with too much noise, or that the voice will be too loud or that the mic does not work in that particular day.

By looking for good tutorials and tips I came across this one made by Robert Rozak, President of JuicedLink. He compares and demonstrates the different digital recording devices and their capabilities.

Watch and tell me what do you think!

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Fast Guide to Audacity

This post is part of a series of How to do an Audio Slideshow

Audacity is a very popular audio editing tool. The best thing? It is completely free.

There are a lot of Audacity tutorials on Youtube but I strongly recommend the one made by Mindy McAdams. Is quick and easy to follow. If you already know how to work with Audacity it doesn’t hurt to take a second look if you have doubts.

I decided to make a mini tutorial with the links and the tutorials provided by Mindy. So here is a super fast guide to Audacity:

  1. Download Audacity
  2. Get the Lame Encoder other wise you won’t be able to export your final project in MP3. In the Super-Fast Guide to Audacity and the video tutorial Mindy McAdams explains what to do.
  3. Just in case, download an audio converter because Audacity doesn’t accept WMA files. If you have WMA files you have to convert them first. Here is a small list of some audio converters:- Switch Audio File Converter Software
  4. After downloading Audacity and before you open your audio file set up the preferences according to this file.
  5. Watch the video tutorial with Audacity’s Basic Principles for editing audio. Also, if you prefer you can read the audio editing guide that is split in two parts: a simple and basic guide to edit audio and a more detailed guide. Advice: Try both.
  6. Learn how to edit multitrack audio.
  7. Export your file!

More on Mindy McAdams audio tools:

Journalists’ Toolkit – Audio Resources

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Assignment 1: Communities of Practice

This post is the critical evaluation for my first assignment in the module “Multimedia News Gathering and Production”, which is part of my MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University.

During the last two months I have been focusing in online audio and video and doing experimental pieces using these mediums. Throughout my exploration of online video and audio I can say I have learned a lot. Adam Westbrook and Colin Mulvany lead by example in their fields and they were a big inspiration. However, I also realized that there are not static and fast rules. Learning through practice, experimentation and reflecting on mistakes is what makes a good project.

I have chosen audio and video as both of the mediums raise an important question: why and when to chose one over another? My first step was revisiting multimedia projects that I find inspirational, which I blogged about here.

Audio and Podcasting

To explore the power of audio in journalism I interviewed and recorded a podcast with Sam Coley. Recording this podcast was very helpful for two reasons: I interviewed a professional in the area of audio but also it gave me the opportunity of doing my first podcast.

Recording the podcast showed me that I need to think about the questions clearer and try to focus during the interview and not to rush it in the beginning as I said in my post, which means, I need to practice a lot. However, it gave great ideas for future podcasts.

I used Soundcloud and I really liked the possibility to include notes on Soundcloud, which I used to include links in the timeline. In this case in particular I used both soundcloud and a recorder to have the opportunity to edit it after and slip it in different parts. To be honest, I don’t think I am ready to record a podcast without having to edit it after.

The interview with Sam reaffirmed something that I already knew but that I took for granted: the importance of recording good audio.

Audio Slideshows

My main aim for this assignment was to produce an audio slideshow. I have worked with video and audio in my previous degree but I never did an audio slideshow as a main project.

In my research, I tried to read extensively about how to make a great audio slide show and the do’s and don’ts. I know the only way to get it right is through practice but I was able to take in a lot of good tips to have a clear idea of what to do and to try to avoid common mistakes.

I decided to do a series of posts on How to do an Audio Slide Show. To think about an audio slideshow as a series of processes and to reflect about them after was very helpful. Until now I have covered aspects such as the interviewing process, gathering audio and also editing tips common to edition software’s. Nevertheless, it is one thing to blog about best practices and another to put them in practice as I am discovering now.

I have been working on an audio slideshow for a couple of weeks about Alan Hill, a fireman that assisted the Birmingham Pub Bombings in 1974. I have been struggling to find a good angle but after a lot of tries I believe I found it and I plan on finishing it until the end of the week.

As I am editing and gathering the footage I was able to create my list of dos and don’ts with some examples. Although I am no expert I surely can say that I’ve never looked into audio slideshows that deeply and intensively as I am doing now.

Photography

Audio slideshows are a great way of telling a story but also good tools to improve skills on photography, which was one of my goals with the experimental portfolio.

I am trying to get to know my camera and experiment as much as possible. Furthermore, I am trying to look at technical aspects and terms that I overlooked before. Composition, light and color are becoming constant words in my mind when I shoot.

I decided to get to know Photoshop a little better, a very useful and powerful tool. As a journalist, I need to have in mind that the picture should be as real and natural as possible but Photoshop can improve a few aspects, especially for audio slideshows. I took some tutorials and decided to experiment some basic tools with Photoshop and wrote a post about with my experience. I decided to go to an event called Birmingham Photography last week. It was a great meetup made of pros and beginners. Basically we went out to take pictures and those who are experts help us with composition and lighting aspects.

However, I am still in an early stage and photography was probably the last aspect that I focused for my experimental portfolio.

Online video

I have to admit that I focus my attention mostly on audio and started to research and to think about video in a later stage of this assignment. As I said, I had already done online video in my previous degree but I was out of practice.

I already knew how to work with a tripod and with a camera but I had never done a deep research from professionals. Adam Westbrook’s quick hits to make videos better and Franziska Baehrle’s tips to get started on videojournalism were good examples. Looking back, I realize that I still have a long way to go.

I am doing a short piece of video with the concept that I have came up in this post: “What you would like to read in the newspaper tomorrow?”. I am trying to apply these tips to my shootings and at the same time trying to notice what I can do get better. I am still in the shooting process and in early stages of my research.

Communities of Practice

Interviewing the professionals

To establish my network and to engage with professionals I tried to interview them but I was not completely successful. As I said before, I made a podcast with Sam Coley about audio and blogged about it in two posts.

One way to get me started to blog about video was to invite Franzi Baerhle, a former Online Journalism MA student, to do a guest post in my blog about shooting with DSLR. I have my DSLR for two years but I think I am not making the most of it.

A post about equipment to use in video journalism is very useful for someone without a lot of experience. I think I am going to start doing more guest posts like this.

I also contacted a Company created by two students at Birmingham City University Student’s Company: 470. 470 media launched a project called Un-told Birmingham with the aim of telling hidden stories about Birmingham with audio slideshows. We exchange e-mails and I going to spend one day with Un-told Birmingham’s team and do different podcasts next week. I think it will be different to have a new and young perspective about how to make an audio slideshow and its powers.

Forums, groups, pages, comments and tutorials

In general, as a beginner, I found it better to start learning from others and to learn by practice, which means, research, trial, error, and more research.

I started by searching for forums, Facebook pages/groups, mailing lists etc. to engage with communities. Searching for those groups I started to understand the concept of communities of practice, which was still a blur a few weeks ago.

I have been following a lot of websites and one that I found particularly useful and interesting was Finding the Frame.  Although a little bit late, I contributed for its forum 3 posts: two of them I suggested links and in the other one I created a topic with ideas for projects.

This is a great example of a community to follow for those who are interested in audio slideshows and video. You can upload your stories, describe the equipment you used and request feedback. I am planning to upload my future projects on Finding the frame to get some feedback. I was well impressed with the constructive criticism that I read in some of the projects and that is what I need to improve.

Adam Westbrook’s blog was a great example for me and I quoted and took a lot of ideas from him. I ended up using his 30 ideas for projects for digital producers to make a list with my ideas. Then I posted my list on his website and I am still waiting for feedback.

Moreover I will keep on watching the work of other professionals to learn from it but I will also start to comment on their work and make new contacts.

On Twitter I can say that I enlarge my network massively. I created one list to aggregate tweets from people that I identified as experts and subscribed to other relevant twitter lists. I posted about Twitters to follow for online journalists here.

I used twitter to share some of my posts and to ask questions but I didn’t engage as much as I should.  In the future I have to be more proactive asking for feedback on my own work. Until now I only had one person retweeting my posts, which made me happy nonetheless.

In general I could have been more active distributing content and interacting with the communities of practice. Analyzing my engagement, I see that I was a bit shut down and close in my own work. Despite being a beginner I need to start interact with professionals to support and grow a network.

On LinkedIn I joined two groups: Online Journalism Group and Online Audio Journalism Group. However, I found it difficult to find relevant topics to contribute for. The first group is more active but not with subjects related to online and multimedia journalism but with international news. I suggested one topic (Audio Slideshows: Dos and Don’ts) in the Online Audio Journalism Group but didn’t get any response.

I have to say that I struggled to find forums for my level of knowledge. Sometimes the conversations were too advanced and I could not keep up or commenting.

In spite of my lack of engagement I subscribed to a lot of websites such as Finding the Frame, MediaStorm, Adam Westbrook’s blog, Mastering Multimedia etc. I catch up with the latest multimedia news on Google Reader or on newsletters that go directly to my mailbox. I now realize that I need to change my feed aggregator since Google reader is going to close in June.

Following these websites was probably the most useful part of my experimental portfolio. They offer amazing examples but also interesting blogrolls to find more websites to add to my subscription.

I kept records of interesting and relevant posts in my Delicious account under multimediajournalism, audio slideshows and videojournalism.

I have always been a fan of tutorials. I know it is a bit lazy but the fact that someone is teaching exactly what we should do really pleases me. The Audacity Tutorial by Mindy McAdams led the example and it was very useful for me and I blogged about it. Regarding photography I read composition tips and Mindy McAdams has good post on learn how to crop, tone, and optimize photos and I am following the instruction and I will blog about it.

I also followed The Knight Digital Media Center tutorials and recently I discovered and subscribed a trial of Lynda Tutorials. This is a website with thousands of tutorials for all software we can imagine. However, after the trial, it is paid.

Experimentation and Blogging

The name of this project says it all: experimentation was my main goal. This was an opportunity to discovered and work with new software/platforms and consolidate previous knowledge.

For my audio slideshow I decided to use Adobe Premiere Pro CS5. I already knew the platform but I was out of practice so I decided to stay in my comfort zone with this audio slideshow because I to remember how to work with it.

However, for the video I am going to give Final Cut Express a try. I am finding it very intuitive, like other Apple’s software. I was already familiar with Imovie and Final Cut Express it is not much different.

Additionally, I created a basic account on Vimeo as I have always uploaded my work on Youtube and wanted to try a different video network. I started to research what was better for me and I have to agree that Vimeo does a better job keeping the website clean, professional and the videos are more evident in the page. For digital production, I think Vimeo is preferable since it offers less visual distraction. The amount of information on Youtube is overwhelming and your mind wonders trough the playlists, the comments and the ads. For bigger and more complex pieces I think Vimeo does a better job. Definitely it is going to be my choice for my future pieces.

When I started editing my slideshow I faced a dilemma: editing the audio on Audacity and then import it to Adobe Premiere or edit directly on Adobe. I believe it was a personal choice but after trying edit a track of the audio on Audacity I chose to work on the whole audio slideshow in Adobe.

At some point I want to start working with Final Cut Pro 7. Most of the people I follow and subscribed use Final Cut for Audio Slideshows.

Finally, when I recorded my podcast with Sam Coley I did it in two different ways: with an audio recorder and with my Soundcloud application on the Ipad. It was the first time I did a live podcast and I liked Soundcloud. In the future I am considering trying Mixcloud but my experience with the former app has been positive. Nonetheless, I brought my recorder to have the opportunity to edit it and to play around with a voice recorder to practice for my interview for the audio slideshow.

I tried to blog about my experiences and my reflections as much as I could. The Multimedia Journalist was my first professional blog and I am thrilled I created it. It is the most useful tool to reflect about my work critically and a fantastic way to organize my thoughts and my work. A lot of my posts are inspired in websites that I follow and what’s been of most use for me is to follow those who blog about their work, as I said. I take notes, I test the ideas and then I try to write about it. I have endeavored to “blog as I go” and I am glad with I have done so far. My views of the blog are increasing and I am gaining more followers on Twitter.

To understand where I stood in terms of audio editing and video editing I also went to an exhibition organized by School of Arts Students and created a blog with way I record. It was a great way to practice.

Immersing myself into the world of online video and audio is just the start of this learning curve for me and I’ve realised that good multimedia journalism often takes research, preparation, strong narrative and pacing. With this in mind I’m looking forward to trying a more methodical approach. I need to manage my expectations and my time better. I decided to focus on a lot of aspects and I ended up swamped with everything.

Proposal for assignment 2

For my second assignment I want to development skills in a field that I am overlooking for too long now: Data Journalism and Visualizations.

In the beginning of this module I thought of working with Youth Offenders and I am going to stand by my first choice. A young offender is someone between 10 and 21 years old that commits a crime. However there is a difference. Young offenders aged 10 to 17 (i.e. up to their eighteenth birthday) are classed juvenile offender. Between the ages of 18 and 21 (i.e. up to their twenty-first birthday) they are classed as young offenders. I would like to focus my attention on Juvenile Offenders.

I already have chosen some data to start collecting and working on stories from that:

  • Reoffending Patterns
  • Types of Crime
  • Types of Disposals (especially pre-court disposals)
  • Comparing rates nationally

I already identified organisations to contact to work with:

I want to develop my skills with excel but also with visualization in Illustrator. I need to manage one of my big problems: focusing. The theme could be huge but in a short time I need to start by doing data and, if I have time, add some more multimedia aspects. However, I still to shape this aspect better in my mind.

Bibliography

Bull, Andy (2010). Multimedia Journalism: A practical guide. 1st. ed. London and New York: Routledge.

Luckie, Mark S. (2010). Digital Journalists’ Handbook. United States of America: Self Published

All the posts and wesbites that I bookmarked for this module so far are here:

https://delicious.com/marianapereira/multimediajournalism

Audioslideshows:

https://delicious.com/marianapereira/audioslideshows

Video Journalism

https://delicious.com/marianapereira/videojournalism

Comments that I made:

https://delicious.com/marianapereira/comments

Subscriptons on Google Reader:

http://bit.ly/15QlLUX

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